With the huge Omicron surge in coronavirus cases now receding in the United States and many other countries, reports have been cropping up in many news outlets lately about a potentially worrisome new version of Omicron — a subvariant known as BA.2 — and the threats it may pose.
These are the key facts about BA.2 that you should know and what we know sofar.
It’s not really new.
Scientists discovered that the Omicron variant came in three genetically distinct forms shortly after it was first detected in November. Because BA.1 was more prevalent than BA.2 in the beginning, the scientists focused their attention on it. The third subvariant was even rarer. It was BA.1 that first broke out and raced around the world, while BA.2 took longer to become significant, but both have been on scientists’ radar from the outset.
It seems easier to catch.
Omicrons of all kinds are highly contagious. This is why Omicron quickly overtook Delta and caused a massive global surge. However, preliminary research suggests that BA.2 may be even more transmissible to humans than BA.1. It is already the dominant Omicron form in some countries and is growing in popularity in others. Its potential for greater transmissibility has raised concerns about whether BA.2 could cause a new spike, or lengthen the current one. But the jury is still out as to whether that is likely.
It does not seem to be more severe.
Omicron surge is notable because if you get infected with the variant, your chances of dying, being hospitalized, or becoming seriously ill are significantly lower than with Delta or other variants. All research, including a South Africa-based study, shows that BA.2 scores no differently from BA.1.
Existing vaccines work against it.
While it is known that Omicron generally has been somewhat better than other variants at causing “breakthrough” infections of vaccinated people, the vaccines still provide substantial protection against infection and very strong protection against severe illness. Booster shots can make the protection even stronger. And once again, BA.2 doesn’t seem to change any of that: British researchers recently found that vaccines were equally effective against both Omicron subvariants.
Omicron has also been somewhat better than other variants at breaking through “natural” immunity acquired from previous infections, and some concerns have been raised that BA.2 might be able to do that to people who caught BA.1 in the Omicron surge. Even though reinfections of this nature have been reported, they are rare in countries with BA.2.
Its ‘stealth variant’ nickname is outdated.
BA.2 was nicknamed the “stealth variant” because initially, when the challenge for researchers was to distinguish Omicron cases from those of Delta and other variants, BA.2 did not tip off its presence in positive P.C.R. BA.1 didn’t test samples the same way, as BA.2 did. This was due to a mutation that hid one of the three detectable coronavirus gene that the tests detect. Omicron is the predominant test positive, but the missing mutation could make BA.2 un-stealthy and stand out from BA.1 cases. tests.
Source: NY Times